Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Keeping the Top Spinning

My thinning hair, crows-fee and arthritic walk suggest I am of an age we often expect people to be retired, at least people often assume I’m retired.  “Oh, you’re still working?” I often hear with a note of surprise.  I explain that while I am no longer employed doing university research, teaching and administrative work, I continue other professional activities and personally gratifying undertakings, like researching and writing a book about my wife Anneke and her survival during the Second World War, as well as books about autism and occasional professional articles. I enjoy presenting invited addresses from time to time and work on national organizations.  I also have time for watercolor painting, which I had neglected for many years.  I’m not sure why it is necessary to explain these things, but people just seem to assume that I am whiling away my time driving a camper to Arizona in the Winter, playing shuffle board and weeding the garden.  Writing books, consulting on research, organizing national conferences, presenting invited addresses, the kinds of things I have done most of my adult life, somehow don’t seem to be part of the expected picture of my gray-haired life.  It's true that we have more time for our children and grand children, which is a fortunate by product of not working full time.

Perhaps I discovered the answer during a recent trip to The Hague.  As a going away gift when I left The Hague last weekend, Dutch friends, Deborah and Martine presented me with a traditional antique Dutch ceramic tile on which is portrayed two boys playing a game, one has started a top spinning and the other’s task is to keep the top spinning as long as possible by using a whip held in one hand.  The game is intended to teach children the value of persistence, concentration and refining one’s skills.  On arriving home, when I came upon the tile while unpacking, I wondered whether the bright blue image on the white tile may well be a metaphor for my retirement, keeping the top spinning as long as possible.  This apparently puzzles some people who expect me to sit in an easy chair and while away my time watching the grass grow.  As Carl Sandburg wrote of Googler and Gaggler in the Rootabaga Stories, I’m not one to sit with the sitters or knit with the knitters while I could be keeping the top spinning.

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